A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Cyberbullying

Please welcome back our guest blogger, Janice Russell, of Parenting Disasters,  for a very important topic.  As parents, it can be hard to keep up with the changing technologies and how it can affect our children.  Here’s a good place to get started.

Cyberbullying can be a scary subject for most parents. While we can understand the emotions behind bullying, it can be difficult to grasp the implications of bullying in today’s modern age, when children are exceptionally vulnerable through their use of technology. Statistics show that only 7 percent of American parents are worried about it, but 33 percent of children have suffered from it. This disparity shows that parents still have a long way to go when it comes to educating themselves on the matter. Here are some things to keep in mind.

How Is Cyberbullying Different Than Regular Bullying?

In many ways, it’s not. It is still a form of intimidation and aggression intended to cause physical or psychological harm. However, the main differences lie in the implications of the technological medium and in the social environment kids live in today.

First of all, the internet allows for some level of anonymity for the bully. It’s also much harder to hide from cyberbullying, as it can happen anytime, and it has the potential to grow virally and spin out of control. There is also the wider context of the internet, which can be a toxic place where hateful messages are spread without fear of repercussion. Most importantly, it can’t realistically be ignored or cut out of the child’s life. A large part of a child’s social life plays out online, and to cut them off completely would be alienating and counterproductive.

What Are Some of the Effects of Cyberbullying?

As with any form of bullying, the effects of cyberbullying are potentially catastrophic. In the short-term, bullying can cause problems with sleep, school, and socialization. In the long run, it can cause PTSD. It can also lead to mental health problems ranging from depression to eating disorders, both immediately and into adulthood.

The worst possible effect of bullying is suicide. This may feel like an extreme example, but the connection has been proven. Teens involved in bullying behavior — on either side — are more likely to consider suicide. This highlights the importance of identifying cyberbullying and intervening as soon as possible.

How Do I Know My Child Is Being Cyberbullied?

First off, make it very clear to your children they should come to you if they are bullied, no matter what. Have an open conversation, in which you impress the importance of both asking for help and treating others with respect on the internet. This guide by Positive Parenting Solutions has some good tips. You also need to watch out for signs of cyberbullying. If you start identifying these, ask the school if they have spotted anything unusual. If not, this may be a sign the bullying is happening online.

What Can I Do?

If you believe the bully is a classmate, your first step should be to take it to the school. However, bear in mind that without direct evidence of the child’s behavior, it can be difficult for the school to enforce any punishment. In the meantime, tell your child not to respond to harassment and save any messages. You may opt to start gathering forensic evidence, such as text messages and social media posts, to begin building a legal case. In severe cases, you may want to turn to professionals like Secure Forensics who can help you gather all the information you need.

If the bullying becomes life-threatening (death threats and suicide encouragement, for example), go straight to the police with the issue. Cyberbullying legislation varies from state to state, so it also helps to be informed about your rights.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of cyberbullying, but as parents, it is our job to show our kids they are not powerless. To do that, we need to become comfortable talking about cyberbullying, its real-world consequences, and the options we have to fight it. Cyberbullying is relatively new and uncharted territory for most parents, kids, and schools, so education and open conversation are some of the most powerful tools available to us on the matter.

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